Art of The Berlin Galleries – Carpets After Raphael’s Cartoons

Before proceeding with our discussion of the paintings we come by the Balcony in the large Gallery 64, between the two Courts, and view there the Carpets that were made after Raphael’s cartoons, seven of which are to-day in the South Kensington Museum.

Pope Leo X ordered of Raphael ten cartoons, from which carpets were woven in 1516 by Peter van Aelst, in gold, silk and wool. These carpets were used on festal days to decorate the lower part of the walls of the Sistine Chapel, and are to this day kept in one of the halls of the Vatican. A second series was woven in exactly like manner, which set came into the possession of Henry VIII of England, and which remained until the death of Charles I in the royal palace of Whitehall. At the sale of the artistic treasures of the late king the carpets were bought by the Spanish ambassador for the Duke d’Alba and were sent to Spain, but in 1823 they came back to England where in 1844 they were bought for the Berlin Museum.

A later repetition of six carpets of the series is in Dresden, and other repetitions, of the seventeenth century, are found in Madrid, Vienna and Loreto. These, however, do not have the gold threads. The Berlin carpets are exact replicas of those in the Vatican.

The Cartoons from which these carpets were woven have been called the Parthenon-sculptures of the Renaissance, and Wölfflin has said, ” they were the treasure whence one could draw the form expression of all human sensations; and Raphael’s fame rests principally on these performances. The Western world had never been able heretofore to represent conclusively the movements of astonishment, consternation, the agony of sorrow and the image of the divine.”

It must be understood that the Cartoons rank artistically higher than the tapestries. The former are Raphael’s own drawings with their delicate shades of colour and subtle indications of type and character in the lines, which the weavers could not reproduce with their materials. Time also has faded the original glowingly rich colours, which are now almost monochromatic. Still the grouping, the balance of the masses, the exquisite expresion of the lines remain, and in these arazzi we have the noble, complete product of Raphael’s mastership in composition.

The subjects woven in these tapestries are drawn from the Acts of the Apostles, or rather represent scenes from the lives of Peter and Paul, and it is apparent that the object was to illustrate the relationship between the history of the Apostles and the Papal Hierarchy.

The first carpet to the right shows ” The Miraculous Draught of Fishes,” where the Master with Peter and his brother Andrew are seated in one boat, and three fishermen in another pulling in the nets. Peter is kneeling before the miracle-worker. In the distance are the shores of the lake Gennesareth. In the foreground three cranes stand in the water on a shallow spot near which the wonderful catch is made.

It is notable that the boats are proportionately far too small to carry the human loads, which was a peculiarity of cinquecento art, to subdue the material to the spiritual, even though it should contradict the facts. We note the same singularity in Leonardo da Vinci’s ” Last Supper,” where the table is apparently too small for the company.

The second carpet, ” Pasci Oves,” Feed My Sheep, illustrates the charge to Peter in a beautiful grouping of the Apostles, and where the actual flock of sheep is not omitted.

In the ” Healing of the Lame ” the foreportal of the Temple is shown by a hall with heavy, turned columns among which the multitude surges to witness the miracle which Peter is performing. An open square is the scene of ” The Death of Ananias,” where the culprit is struck down upon the pavement as Peter, surrounded by the Apostles, lifts his hand to call judgment from heaven.

The ” Conversion of Saul ” is a far different composition from the one we shall see in the Rubens gallery. A long caravan stretches into the depth of the picture, while the wildness of Saul’s horse clears a space in the foreground. The next tapestry shows ” The Stoning of St. Stephen,” and the one following, ” Paul and Barnabas in Lystra,” where the apostle tears his garments because the multitude tries to make him a subject of idolatry.

The sorcerer Elymas struck blind by Paul is seen on the next carpet, while the last one is of the most impressive composition, ” Paul Preaching at Athens.” Raphael indicates the Areopagus by fanciful Greek temple-architecture, Paul with up-lifted hands standing on a mosaic platform in front of a colonade. The multitude is in wrapt attention, only Dionysius the Areopagite makes a gesture of interest. One of the Vatican carpets, ” Paul and Silas delivered from Prison by an Earthquake,” is missing in the Berlin set.

( Originally Published 1912 )

The Art of The Berlin Galleries:The Kaiser Friedrich Museum – History Of The CollectionThe Italian PaintingsRoom 29 – Italian Paintings Of The 14th, And The First Half Of The 15th CenturyRoom 30 – Florentine Paintings Of The 15th CenturySculpture In Marble Of Donatello And Desiderio, And Old Florentine PaintingsRooms 34 — Ferrarese And Bolognese Paintings Of The 15th And 16th CenturiesRoom 35 – Lombard PaintingsRoom 64 – The Carpets After Raphael’s CartoonsRoom 38 – Florentine Paintings Of The 15th CenturyRoom 37 – Umbrian And Paduan Paintings Of The 15th CenturyRead More Articles About: The Art of The Berlin Galleries